"I'm telling you, dude! I saw it!" I can faintly hear Jude say from the food court.
Curious, I start making my way over.
"Yeah, right. C'mon man, be real here. There's no way," is Jonesy's reply.
"No way what?" I ask, coming up behind Jude.
He jumps and whips around to face me, grabbing me by the shoulders, "Amanda! You believe me don't you!?"
I blink, "I might, if I had any idea what you're talking about."
Wyatt takes a sip of his coffee, "He swears he saw a monster right outside his basement last night."
"Oh." I look at Jude funny, "What were you even doing in your basement at night?"
He calms down for a second, "Mom wanted me to bring up one of the boxes of clothes down there." Then it's right back to being freaked, "It was there, dudette! It was running around in the shadows, but I could see its eyes! I had NIGHTMARES about those eyes!"
After he's stopped, I pry his hands off my shoulders and lightly set my hands on his arms, "The door to your basement is outside your house, right?"
He nods.
"Okay. Jude, if you had to guess, how big do you think this thing was?"
"Aw, come on Amanda, don't encourage him!" Jonesy whines.
I ignore him, waiting for Jude to answer.
The blonde looks up in thought, "I dunno... probably about up to my knees or something."
"And what color eyes did it have?"
"Oh, they were this REALLY bright green. They almost glowed in the dark! Freaky, bra!" he spazzes.
I giggle, "Jude, your neighbors have a black cat named Charms, right?"
He nods, "Yeeeaaaah..."
"And what color eyes does the cat have?"
"Green."
"And this cat is how big?" I ask, expecting the light bulb to go off any second.
He thinks about, then he gets a look of realization on his face. "Oh... Aw, man! I can't believe I got freaked by a cat!"
I laugh, "Well, better a cat than a monster, right?"
"Definitely."
I pat his head and sit down next to Wyatt, Jude following and sitting between Jen and me.
"Hey, how'd you know about his neighbors' cat, Amanda?" Jen asks.
I shrug, "I've seen it wandering around a few times. It's usually walking around the street when I go over to Jude's to hang out."
Nikki smirks, " 'Hang out' huh?"
Jude nods, "Yeah, we practice tricks in the street. Her street has too much gravel. Gravel, plus skateboard, equals baaaaad."
"Oh, okay." Nikki eyes me with another smirk.
I roll my eyes, shaking my head at the implication. "Yeah, and Jude's street was repaved a while ago, so it's better to skate on. Lucky for him, cause he's gonna need to keep practicing to keep up with me," I comment, grinning.
"Hey! I can keep up with you!" he defends.
I laugh, "Keep telling yourself that, Lizzy." I always tease him with that name. I can't help it, his last name amuses me. Lizowski. Hehe. See?
He sighs, "Why do you call me that?"
"Cause I can. And cause it's funny."
He looks thoughtful, "Well then I'm gonna start callin' you Mandy."
I shudder. "Please don't. That sounds like a stripper name."
Jonesy laughs, "I think it suits you."
I narrow my eyes at him, "You implying something, Jonesy?"
He shrugs, attempting to make his grin look like an innocent smile.
Nikki, being closest to him at the table, whacks him for me.
I grin, "Thank-you, Nikki."
"Oh, anytime," she says, waving it off.
Jude's cell goes off, and he gets up, picking his board up from against his seat. "Gotta go, dudes and dudettes. Starr's waiting for me. Catch ya later!" he calls back as he skates away.
Caitlin waits a few seconds, then turns to me from inside the lemon, "You okay, Amanda?"
I blink at her, "Uhh, yeah? Why wouldn't I be?"
"Jude just left to hang out with Starr. Don't try to tell us it doesn't bug you," Nikki adds.
"Alright, I won't try. I'll just do it. It doesn't bug me."
Jen rolls her eyes, "Oh come on, it's so obvious to everyone but him that you're nuts about him."
I sigh, "As if."
Jonesy goes bug-eyed, as does Wyatt. "You're crushing on Jude?" Wyatt asks.
I go to reply with a negative, but Nikki cuts me off, "Yeah. You didn't know? It's been like this for a while."
I give her a deadpanned kind of stare. "Thanks, Nikki. Thanks SO much."
"Hey, don't get mad at me. It's the truth, even if you won't say it out loud."
"Why would I say it out loud? He's still crazy about Starr. Telling him wouldn't do me any good, but it would totally mess things up between us," I reason.
"How so?" Caitlin asks.
"Well, for one thing, I was the one he came to for advice about talking to Starr when they first started hanging out. He comes to me for help with girl-troubles, meaning he doesn't have those kinds of problems with me. That just proves that he doesn't see me the same way he sees Starr."
Jen leans on the table. "OR, it COULD mean that he trusts you more than anyone else. If he's comfortable talking to you about those things, it just shows that you two are really close."
Jonesy rolls his eyes. "I don't get what you're so worried about as far as Starr goes, Amanda. She and Jude are history. So they still hang out once in a while, big deal."
Caitlin sighs, "It's not that simple, Jonesy. Jude's still getting over the break-up. He really liked Starr."
"Ah, give it a few more days. He'll be back to his old ways in no time."
Knowing this conversation isn't gonna make me feel any better, I get up and grab my own board. "Well, this has been a fun talk, really, but I'm off to work. I'll see you guys later." With that, I skate off towards Zumiez. Yeah, I work there. I love my job.
"Hey Dean, Logan, Carrie," I greet, entering the store.
Dean and Logan wave, and Carrie comes up to me, "You've got cashier duty today. Dean and Logan are gonna be in the back working on the decks, and I've got the racks today."
" 'Kay." I head behind the counter and put my nametag on, as well as my black beanie with Gir's puppy-face on it. Of course, only a minute later, my cell phone rings. There aren't any customers coming to the desk, so I figure it's safe to answer. "Hello?"
"Hey, it's Nikki."
I sigh, "If you called to tease me some more, wait until I'm off-shift."
"Nah, I'll wait so I don't get you in trouble at work. I actually wanted to ask if you had any good boards that don't cost too much."
"Uhh, yeah, I guess. Why? Last time I checked, skateboarding wasn't your thing."
"It's not, trust me. It's for Jude."
"...Doesn't he already have one? He was using it a little while ago, wasn't he? Or did I totally hallucinate that?"
She laughs, "No, you didn't. He was on his way to see Starr and tried to pull off some big move off a bench. Long story short, it didn't work out."
My eyes go wide, "Is he okay?"
"He's fine, but his board's not. It's completely broken in two. He called me a while ago to ask if I knew where he could get some duct-tape."
I sigh, "Wow, that bites. That thing was, like, his baby. You wanna get him a new one?" I quickly check to see if there are any people coming. Nope.
"Well, I was, but then I had this great idea."
"Oh boy. Wait a second, I'll get the sledgehammer."
"Ha-ha, real funny. I'm serious, just listen. I was thinking that you should use your employee discount to buy the board, then give it to him yourself. It'll score you major points with him, and he'll have a new board. You both win."
I actually think about it for a few seconds. "...I guess that's not a bad idea. I got paid yesterday, so I definitely have some extra cash. ...Okay, I'll do it. Thanks Nikki."
"Just looking out for you. ...You know we're all rooting for you, right? Everyone thinks you two would be great together, Jude's just... oblivious."
I laugh a little, "Yeah, I know. Thanks again, Nikki. I'll see ya later, yeah?"
"Yeah. See ya."
I hang up my phone just as a group walks into the store. "Hey. How can I help you guys?"

~.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.~

So after about two dozen groups of customers, I'd made my way to the back and asked Logan if I could use the back counter to put a custom-deck together. He switched with me and went to man the front so I could get to work. I remembered that Jude was totally IN LOVE with one of my customs, so I started making one just like it, only I replaced where my name would be with his. Once that was done, I put on the grip tape, the trucks, and the wheels. When it was finally done, I put it behind the counter and asked Logan not to let anyone touch it until I came to pick it up at the end of my shift.
And so, now that my shift is officially over, I head into the back and pick up my board, "Thanks, Logan. You wanna ring it up for me?"
He nods, punching it into the register. With my discount, the board costs me a total of about 75 bucks. Ouch. But I guess it's no problem, since I put in a lot of extra hours last week. Can you spell bonus? Anyway, I pay and head towards the escalator so I can go to the food court. On the way down, I ring Caitlin.
"Hello?"
"Cait? It's Amanda. Is Jude down there?"
"Oh yeah, he's been here for, like, twenty minutes sulking. He's really upset about his board."
"I know, but don't worry. I've got something that'll make him feel better."
"Really? Wyatt and Jonesy have been trying to cheer him up, but nothing's working. Jen and Nikki should be down here any second, too."
"Believe me, he'll be fine. Thanks Cait, be there in a minute." I hang up and head towards the Big Squeeze. When it comes into view, I can see everyone looking kinda worried about Jude, who looks absolutely miserable. Nikki doesn't look as worried, though. Gee, I wonder why. Anyway, I walk up to the table, keeping the board somewhat behind my back. Everyone but Jude looks at me and notices the board immediately. I put a finger over my lips, signaling them not to say anything. They smile and nod. I tap Jude on the shoulder, "Hey dude. How ya holdin' up?"
He sighs, "Not so good, bra."
"I heard what happened. Ya know, you could always get a new board."
"No I can't. I'm broke. I can't afford the deck. No deck means nothing to attach the wheels to."
I smile, "Oh. Well, then I guess it's a good thing I have this, isn't it?" I brandish the skateboard when he turns to look at me.
His eyes go wide and he jumps up from his seat, "No way, bra!"
I laugh, "Way, bro. Nikki told me what happened to your board. I put this together at work and got a nice discount for being an employee." I hold it out to him, "Here. It's yours."
Still shell-shocked, he slowly reaches out and takes it. He looks at the deck and grins, "This is just like your custom!"
I shrug, "You told me you liked it, so I made you one with your name. ...How'd I do?"
"Are you kidding? This is, like, the rockin'-est present anyone's ever given me! You rule, dudette!" He then gives me the most bone-crushing hug I've ever gotten, lifting me off the ground in the process.
I can't help but laugh, "Don't mention it, Jude."
When he finally puts me back down, he drops the board and hops on, circling the table a few times.
Jen laughs, "I think you just made his week, Amanda. That was a great idea."
"It was Nikki's idea. I just put the board together and bought it. She gets credit for this, too," I point out.
"Yeah, it was my idea, but I didn't expect you to go all out on customizing it. How much did that cost you, anyway? Aren't custom-boards supposed to be really expensive?"
I shrug, "Eh, no biggie. It doesn't really matter. I got a bonus for working so much last week anyway, and with my employee discount, it was pretty cheap for a good custom."
"How cheap is pretty cheap?" Wyatt asks.
"It was, like, 75 bucks. I got a $100 bonus, so I had spare cash. It was a good deal."
Jen and Nikki glance at each other, and Caitlin speaks up, "Amanda, weren't you supposed to be saving your paychecks to buy your car?"
I shrug again, "Doesn't matter. I don't even have my license yet."
Nikki smirks, "Wow, you gave up your car funds to buy that board? That was really nice of you."
Picking up on what she's doing, Caitlin chimes in, "Oh, definitely."
I roll my eyes, but don't say anything. I just take my usual seat next to Nikki and, also as usual, Jude sits next to me a few seconds after.
"Seriously, Manders, you gotta let me do something to pay you back," Jude says.
I stop for a second and give him a weird look, "...Manders?"
He smiles and nods, "Came up with that a little while after I left, right before I crashed and burned. I guess I got distracted trying to come up with a name."
I blink. "...Lemme get this straight. You messed up a trick and broke your board in half... because you got distracted trying to come up with a nickname for me?"
He thinks about it, "...Yup. That's how it went down."
After staring at him for a few seconds, I giggle, pushing his beanie down over his eyes, "Thanks Jude, I feel really special now."
He laughs and fixes his hat.
Caitlin grins really wide and leans over the counter, "Hey, I know how you can repay her, Jude!"
He looks back at her, "Really? How?"
I step in, "It doesn't matter, because you don't have to repay me."
"Uh, yeah I do. You spent your bonus on a board for me, the money you were supposed to save for your car. There's no way I can let you do that without doing something for you, too, dudette," he decides.
Nikki turns to Caitlin, "So what's this idea you've got, Cait?"
She looks at Jude again, "You should take her out somewhere. You know, just the two of you."
I can feel my face instantly turn red, "Caitlin!"
Jude however is actually considering it. "Hmm... I could do that." He looks at me, "How about it, Manders?"
I blink, my mind totally blank until Nikki "nudges" me with her elbow. "Ow! I mean, uh, y-yeah, sure Jude."
He grins, "Awesome. How 'bout tomorrow? We can go to that little café down the street that you like."
I finally get my brain to start working again and nod with a smile, "Sure. Sounds good to me."
"Cool. I'll swing by around six and we'll walk there." He gets up and grabs his new board, "I'm gonna go take this for a spin. Thanks again, bra!" He skates off, leaving me to deal with everyone else.
Nikki smirks, "That was one of the best ideas you've ever had, Cait. Nice one."
I sigh, my head in my hands, propped up on the table. "I can't believe you just did that."
Caitlin giggles, "Oh, you'll thank me later. Come on, you're gonna have a great time."
"Yeah, and besides, you hang out with Jude all the time. This shouldn't be hard for you," Jen says.
"Whatever." I pause, "...I can't believe he even remembered that."
"Remembered what?" Cait asks.
"About the café. It's one of my favorite places to just chill. I'm surprised he knew that; he was only there with me once," I explain.
Wyatt shrugs, "Maybe it's a sign."
I give a small laugh, "Yeah, I think not."
"You gotta be more confident, Amanda. I mean, sure Jude's a little... out there, but if you tell him you like him, it'll totally work out," Caitlin tries to convince me.
Jonesy has to put his two-cents in. "Yeah, you got nothin' to worry about. Seriously, Jude would never be dumb enough to turn you down. I can name at least twenty guys at school who'd be all over you if they had the chance."
Nikki rolls her eyes, "As weird as this will sound coming from me, Jonesy's right. You just gotta let him know."
"..." I stare at the table, weighing my options. "But he's still getting over Starr. I don't want to put any pressure on him, ya know?" As soon as I'm done talking, my phone rings. I flip it open, "Hello?"
"Hey, it's Dean."
"Oh, hey. Everything cool at the store?"
"Yeah, everything's fine. Listen, I don't work tomorrow, and I know you don't either, so I was wondering if you wanted to go out?"
For the second time, my mind goes blank. "Uhh... hold on one sec, okay?"
"Sure."
I cover the mouthpiece of the phone so he can't hear me. "Guys, it's Dean, the boy I work with. He just asked me out for tomorrow. What am I supposed to say?"
"Oh, I'll handle it." Caitlin takes the phone. "Hi, Dean? This is Amanda's friend Caitlin. She totally appreciates that you're asking her out, but she already has a date with someone else tomorrow. Sorry, but she'll see you later, okay? Bye!" she states in a condoling, yet still happy voice before hanging up the phone. "There. Problem solved."
I take my phone back with a sigh, "Thanks, Cait."
"What's the deal with this Dean guy?" Nikki asks.
"You've seen him. He's the brunette boy I work with at Zumiez. Carrie and Logan have been trying to tell me that he's WAY into me, but I feel kinda bad. I mean, I don't see him as a potential boyfriend AT ALL. He's nice and all, but he's not really my type."
She shrugs, "Well, it doesn't matter now. Just apologize next time you see him."
I nod, "I guess." I get that feeling that I always get when something's gonna go wrong, but I try to ignore it and be happy about tomorrow.

~.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.~

"So, what's your outfit look like?" Caitlin asks from her end of the conference call. Nikki and Jen are on the line too.
"I tried to keep it nice and simple. Just some comfy jeans, one of my fitted tees, and my black sneakers with the white laces."
"Which tee?"
"The black one that says 'Free Hugs' across the front in white."
"Oh, I like that one! Good choice!" Jen says.
"Thanks. Alright, I think I'm all set. It's 5:52, Jude should be here soon. Oh, you guys, I'm so nervous! This is ridiculous! I've hung out with him before, so why am I freaking out?"
"Amanda, relax. You're gonna do fine. Just be yourself and act like this isn't any different from the other times you guys hang out. Just have fun with it," Nikki advises.
I take a deep breath, "You're right. ...Okay, I think I'm alright now." If I were alright, I probably wouldn't have jumped out of my skin when the doorbell rang.
"Oh, there he is! Go!" Caitlin prods.
"Alright, I'm going. Thanks you guys, I'll see you tomorrow!" I hang up and set my phone to vibrate, then slip it into my pocket and make my way downstairs. "Mom, Jude's here! I'm going!"
"Alright, sweetheart! Have fun!" she calls from the kitchen.
I take one last calming breath before I open the door. I smile, "Hey Jude."
He smiles back, "Hey Manders. Ready to go?"
I nod, stepping outside and shutting the door behind me.
He notices my shirt, "Does that apply to everyone?"
I laugh, "Even if it didn't, I always have a free hug for you." I start giggling uncontrollably when he tackles me into a bear-hug.
When he lets go, we start down the street towards the café, Krazy Koko. He's completely aloof, like this is just another day at his house skating in the street. That's a good thing, I guess. I don't want him acting weird. Well... weirder than usual.
"So, I forgot to ask you. How come you spent so much on the board?"
I think about it for a few seconds, "...I wanted to, I guess. I mean, I was planning on making you a board like that for your seventeenth. But since yours got totaled, I figured I'd give it to you early, instead of buying you the replacement like Nikki said, and then making the custom for your birthday."
He blinks, "You were really gonna give me something like that for my birthday?"
I nod. "Why?"
He grins, shaking his head. "Nothin'. That's really cool of you though, bra. All my parents get me for my birthday is clothes. I'm not used to gettin' stuff like that board."
I grin back and wrap an arm around his shoulders, "Aww, anything for you, Lizzy."
He sighs, "You had to go and ruin the moment, didn't you?"
"Yep! Come on, you know me. Messin' stuff up is what I do best!"
He laughs, "This is true." When we get to the café, we head inside and find a booth to sit at. He looks around, "Ya know, I think I get why you like this place. It's really homey, and it smells awesome in here. Like hot chocolate and mocha."
I giggle, "Yeah. The atmosphere's really relaxing, and everyone who works here's really nice."
"Hey Amanda!"
I look up and smile, "Hey Carla. Good to see you."
"You too." She then looks at Jude, "Oh, I remember you. You came here with Amanda once, right?"
He nods, "Yep. Name's Jude."
She grins, "Oh, so you're Jude. Nice to officially meet you, finally. Well, what can I get you two?"
"Can I have my usual hot chocolate and one of the french-vanilla cupcakes?" I ask, my face slightly red.
She nods, scribbling it down on her little pad.
Jude looks at the menu, "Hmm... I'll try the white hot chocolate, and I'll have one of those cupcakes too."
Carla smiles, "Alright, I'll have your orders in a few." And she's off.
"She's nice. Dunno how she remembered me, though..." Jude muses.
I shrug, "Carla's cool. I usually come here when she's on break so we can talk. I mention you and the others sometimes, so she'd probably recognize them if she saw them, too."
"Oh..." He looks a little confused. "How come she seemed so excited to meet me? You talk about me a lot?" he jokes, poking me.
I roll my eyes in an attempt to cover up my embarrassment, "Yeah, that's it. How'd you ever figure it out?"
He laughs, "Can't keep anything from me. I'm too sharp."
Now I'm the one who laughs, "Oh, the irony."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
I shake my head, "Hey, you should know, Mr. Sharpest-tool-in-the-shed."
Carla, thankfully, arrives with our orders, "Here ya go. Enjoy." She winks at me and goes off to help other customers.
Jude looks at the cupcake with wide eyes. "Whooaaa... that's a lot of icing."
"I know. It's really good though," I reply, taking my spoon and scooping a bit of it off. I put the bit of icing into the hot chocolate and stir it around.
He watches me, "...What'cha doin'?"
"Mixin'."
"You just put vanilla icing in your hot chocolate..."
"Yeah. It gives it a little extra flavor. Try it."
Shrugging, he picks up his spoon and scoops some of the drink to try. After a second, he smiles, "That's aaawesome. How'd you come up with that dudette?"
I shrug, "It just sort of came to me one time when I was here. One of those things that randomly hits you, ya know?"
He nods, mimicking me and putting some of his icing into his own drink.
I smile and shake my head. My smile disappears when I see a certain someone walk into the café. "Oh no..."
Jude looks from his hot cocoa at me, "What's wrong?"
"Uhh... nothing. Nothing's wrong," I tell him with my most convincing smile.
He looks at me skeptically, then notices me glancing behind him. He turns to look and sees Dean near the door. He turns back to me, "You know that dude?"
"Heh, no. Why do you ask?"
"Manders, I can tell when you're lying, you know."
I sigh, "Alright, fine. His name's Dean. I work with him."
"So? Why are you all freaked out that he's here?"
"Jude... He, uhh, sort of asked me to go out with him today. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so Caitlin turned him down for me. She told him I already had plans with someone else. He's supposedly had a crush on me since we started working together. I just don't want things to get awkward, okay?" I explain, looking down at the table.
Jude doesn't say anything for a few seconds. "You wanna bail before he sees you?"
I sigh and shake my head, sending him a small smile, "No, that's okay. I'm yours tonight, so he'll just have to deal."
He smiles, "Alright. You sure you're gonna be okay?"
I nod, "Yeah. Thanks, Jude. If he sees me and causes a scene or something, I apologize in advance for the trouble."
He just laughs, "No problem."
Playing it off turns out to be extremely easy, since Dean takes a seat all the way across the room and doesn't even notice me. Jude and I just talk about whatever we happen to think of, and just talking to him settles my nerves, keeping me from worrying about tonight, or about Dean. By the time we've walked back to my house, I've completely forgotten about everything that was bothering me.
Jude smiles down at me, "So now we're squared, right?"
I roll my eyes, "Jude, we were squared before. I didn't expect you to give me anything back. ...But, I guess I'm glad you did."
He seems to be thinking about something. "That's weird. Caitlin said there was something you wanted to tell me while we were out. She called a little while before I left to come get you and said it was somethin' important."
"..." 'Oh, she is SO dead tomorrow!' "I dunno what you're talking about, Jude. I don't have anything to tell you," I play confused, hoping he'll believe me this time.
"We already went through this. You can't fool me," he replies, looking rather smug about it. He leans against the door to my house, "I'm not letting you in until you tell me."
I sigh, "Seriously, it's nothing."
He shrugs, smirking slightly. "I don't have to be home for a few hours, so you can take your time."
I bite my lip, trying to figure a way around this. "It's something Caitlin wants me to tell you, but I don't really want you to know."
"Is it a seeeecret?"
"...No, not really."
"Then what's the big deal? Spill, Manders."
I look off to the side. "It's just... I-I..." Finally realizing I can't get out of this, I take a deep breath, "I... really like you, Jude. Like, as more than a best friend. I didn't want to tell you because I thought you were still upset about what happened with Starr. Plus, I didn't want to freak you out, ya know?" When I finally look at him again, he looks completely surprised, but I guess that was to be expected.
After a few seconds, he gets a huge grin on his face and starts hugging me. "Dudette! You should'a told me sooner!"
"...Say wha?"
He laughs, stepping back to look at me. "I've liked you forever, bra! I never told anyone cause I didn't wanna freak you out!"
I take a second to register all of this. "You mean... So we both..." I get a thought process going. "...Really?"
He nods, still smiling.
I grin and tackle-hug him.
"So, would this be a good time for me to ask you to be my girlfriend?"
I laugh and nod, "Yes, this would be a very good time." Oh boy, will we have a story for the others tomorrow...